Do you think they even considered other titles for the movie? Like Lizzie McGuire Goes to Rome or Lizzie McGuire’s Italian Adventure or literally anything with even a little bit more imagination or creativity? Apparently the Italian release of this was called Lizzie Superstar, which is a fittingly absurd title for this absurd movie. I would have called it Hilary Duff Is a Pop Star Now, Idiots: Deal With It if I’d been involved.
We last left our plucky heroine making a wish in the Trevi Fountain and laying eyes on a ~booyyyyyyy~
Their eyes lock and they stare at each other, and the whole scene is done with slow-mo shots so you know it’s VERY significant. He says, “Isabella?” and she goes, “Huh?” like the charmer she is. It’s not the best meet-cute, but Hilary Duff at least tries noticeably hard to be as doe-eyed as possible, because she is a beautiful movie star and she wants so badly for the world to know it. A dude who is clearly a bodyguard tells the guy he needs to go to a photoshoot, in English because that’s convenient to the movie. This doesn’t faze Lizzie at all. Here it would be very helpful to have Miranda in the movie, because she’d probably be smart enough to at least say, “Wait, is that guy a model or something? He seems famous, right?”
Miss Ungermeyer brings the group to a gelateria and Kate is wearing an extremely interesting ensemble that I can’t fully process.
I would attempt to analyze this outfit, but nothing I could possibly say could top this roast from some absolute fuckin savage who destroyed her in the imdb “Goofs” section:
I’ve been working on this blog since 2015 and it’s all been worth it because I got to read that with my own two eyes.
Anyway, the guy from the Trevi Fountain follows Lizzie to the gelateria and introduces himself as Paolo Valisari in a bad Italian accent. I’d like to note that per imdb, “Valisari” is how the character’s surname is spelled, even though that’s not a very Italian spelling. This feels like a good place to note that I’m an asshole who speaks Italian and studied abroad in Italy, so I’m especially picky about a lot of the fuckups in this movie.
Paolo starts to tell her she looks just like someone he knows named Isabella, and two teenage girls and one grown woman rush over and start screaming “PAOLO! ISABELLA!” and paparazzi take their pictures and the woman hands her a giant wheel of cheese because I guess that’s a funny thing that Americans would think might happen in Italy. Lizzie is confused until Gordo looks up and notices this billboard:
Paolo says that Isabella is his singing partner, which no one acknowledges or processes, and he asks if he can see her again the next day. It feels super odd – “Hey! You look just like my friend! Can we hang out?” – but that’s nothing compared to his next line. When Lizzie says she can’t leave her group, he says, “Forgive me if I embarrassed you. It’s just that, some people, when they come to Rome – they want to find adventure.” Guys, Lizzie SAID she wanted adventure! On her rigidly scheduled school trip! And now he’s pointing out that THIS could be an adventure! Do you get it!!!!! That very on-the-nose line wants you to get it! Paolo’s condescending, passive-aggressive reverse psychology is good because it’s inviting Lizzie to an ADVENTURE!!
Everyone on set seemed to be given the direction to deliver their lines in a disconcertingly over-the-top, bubbly way. This exchange is painful to watch because Lizzie, Gordo, and Paolo all throw so many **acting choices** into simple lines. Lizzie is very naive and confused!!! Gordo is extremely supportive and nice!!! Paolo is so charming and kind!!! It’s all just dialed up to 11 in a way it never was on the series.
Weirdly, Gordo encourages Lizzie to go and volunteers to cover for her, even though you’d think he’d be jealous of Paolo. Lizzie declines, but Paolo goes ahead and sets a time and place for them to meet the next day if she changes her mind, because that makes sense for the script even if it’d be a huge inconvenience for him. He then says, very dramatically, “Ci vediamo,” and when Lizzie asks what it means, he says, equally dramatically, “We will see each other.” For the record, that’s a very common and casual expression in Italian. This exchange was the equivalent of saying, “In English, ‘See ya later’ means ‘I know fate will bring us together again.'”
At the hotel that night, Lizzie has somehow gotten her hands on a physical copy of Paolo and Isabella’s CD, because she raves, “You know, this Paolo and Isabella CD isn’t so bad. I mean if you’re into the Alanis Morissettey, alternative, dark, like brooding, I-never-go-out-into-the-sunshine-and-my-life’s-a-miserable-black-hole-of-depression kinda thing, then you’d think they stink. But I mean, for a, like, driving-around-in-the-car-with-the-top-down-putting-on-your-lip-gloss-loving-life-kinda-thing, they’re good!” That is the only line in the movie that sounds like it could have come from the series, though it seems to ignore the fact that 14-year-old Lizzie can’t drive at all, with the top down or otherwise. She tells Gordo to listen to the CD and he leans in to hear through her headphones but gets distracted and says, “You use scented soap, huh?” It’s mildly creepy and another moment, like the falling asleep on his shoulder one, that mostly exists to show how dumb and oblivious Lizzie is because she just goes “Huh?” and he’s all “Never mind!” and they move on even though it’s OBVIOUS TO THE ENTIRE WORLD THAT HE LIKES HER.
But then, weirdly, he again encourages her to go hang out with Paolo! How does that make any sense? I think the movie wants to posit that he doesn’t know he likes Lizzie. Even if we ignore the many times that it was established in the series that he liked Lizzie and knew it, this is still nonsensical because Gordo keeps having moments like that one where he fumbles to hide that he likes Lizzie. But he tells Lizzie to go hang out with Paolo because she wanted adventure – and he’s got a point that it could be an adventure, though there’s also a chance that she could get kidnapped and raped – and says that it’s fine for her to have an adventure by herself when Lizzie says that she wanted to have adventures together. Shouldn’t he be like, “Yeah, let’s the two of us have adventures together instead of you having adventures with another dude who’s more handsome than me”?
Lizzie fakes sick the next morning, but she doesn’t look sick because she’s clearly wearing makeup and has styled her hair and is wearing jewelry. Well, actually, that is what Lizzie looks like when she’s sick in this universe, so I’ll begrudgingly allow this. After Miss Ungermeyer falls for it, Lizzie runs out to meet Paolo at the Trevi Fountain. She’d told Gordo she was “like physically incapable of sneaking” when he told her she could sneak out, but she was pretty good at it here and didn’t seem to feel particularly guilty, probably because she’s had experience sneaking into movie theaters, onto music video sets, and into cool parties.
She sees Paolo immediately, which you’d think would be difficult because a star of his calibre should be swamped with fans somewhere as crowded as the Trevi Fountain. Maybe it’s so touristy that no one knows Italian pop stars there. Lizzie and Paolo make eyes at each other. If you cut out every shot that was only of Hilary Duff trying to make her eyes sparkle for the camera, this movie would be 30 minutes shorter.
Paolo reveals that he brought a Vespa to drive Lizzie around on. She jumps on, completely ignoring the rule of kidnapping that you never allow yourself to be taken to the second location, as some pretty boring song plays. This soundtrack is sadly devoid of bops. This song is apparently by Vitamin C, which seems like a waste of Vitamin C if they weren’t gonna use a dance remix of “Graduation (Friends Forever)” in the opening sequence. The song that should be playing here is my favorite Italian pop song, “50 Special,” a jam by a boy band about Vespas. Una Vespa Special che ti toglie i problemi, Lizzie! She whizzes past all kinds of Roman landmarks but doesn’t appreciate them, probably because she’s not with a knowledgeable designated tour guide. She sees another Paolo and Isabella billboard and is way more psyched by that than the boring remnants of Italian history surrounding her. Girl does not give two shits about the Spanish steps or the Pantheon. This is why you don’t take 14-year-old dipshits to Rome!
Back at home, Matt decides to track all news relating to Rome in case something embarrassing happens to Lizzie there. This is contrived as hell, and spoiler: there’s no reason for this plotline at all. Matt’s room has been completely redesigned. It looked like this during the series:
But now it looks like this:
The McGuire household always looked warm in the series, both figuratively in that it was comforting and cozy and literally in that it was always shot in warm tones. Not here! The McGuire house is very cold in this movie and it’s pretty bizarre. Also, someone involved with the production team decided that Matt’s thing would be gadgets. Kid loves gadgets now! Always tinkering with his gadgets! His entire room is now gadget central.
Anyway, Melina is in this and tells Matt that he was an idiot for giving away the graduation footage instead of blackmailing Lizzie with it or selling it. This kid actress, as always, does a great job of seeming like an unhinged sociopath.
Back in Rome, Lizzie asks Paolo why the big dude named Sergei follows him around everywhere and Paolo says that’s his bodyguard and Lizzie is so confused and surprised and Cartoon Lizzie is like “Wait, is Paolo super famous?!” Lizzie, you sweet beautiful moron, how did the screaming fans and giant billboards with his face on them not tip you off? The school’s tour bus pulls up right behind Lizzie and Paolo, so Gordo distracts Miss Ungermeyer while Lizzie and Paolo escape because Gordo is A Stand-Up Guy and he is always There For Lizzie, and the movie really wants to beat you over the head with that.
Lizzie asks Paolo if he still loves Isabella and why they broke up, even though no one has at any point said that they were ever in love or that they broke up, just that they were singing partners. Paolo says they’re going to stop singing together because he wants to do more serious music but Isabella doesn’t so he’s going solo, which doesn’t answer the question of them dating each other and breaking up. Paolo says he had a crazy idea but it’s too crazy and Lizzie asks what it is and he keeps being like “no, it’s so crazy” but then tells her. I think this pivot is supposed to be a joke, but it took me 3 times of watching this movie to catch that. The actor playing Paolo is cute and stuff, but I wish they’d gotten a good character actor in here to dig into the role and make Paolo a real dramatic messy bitch. This scene, for instance, would really benefit from an energetic, very Italian Paolo insisting that his idea was crazy but relishing telling Lizzie all about it. Instead, we get a lot of limp, “No, no, it’s so crazy” line readings.
Paolo says that they need to present an award at the International Music Video Awards but Isabella is refusing to appear because she’s mad that Paolo is breaking up the duo (and presumably breaking up with her? They keep conflating their professional and personal relationship so I’m not clear on their romantic status?) and the record company is threatening to sue her. Apropos of nothing, he also reveals that Isabella lip-syncs and Lizzie screams, “Isabella lip-syncs?!?” and I cracked up laughing. I realized after a second that they’re implying a Milli Vanilli fake vocal scenario, but I initially thought they meant she just couldn’t sing live well, which is a hilarious thing to see Hilary Duff freak out about since she didn’t sing live until like 2015. (She didn’t even sing to live vocal recordings! She just sang along to the album version live in concert and at award shows!)
Paolo tells her to keep it a secret so as to not hurt Isabella and Lizzie says, “That’s so sweet! You still care about her!” to let the audience, who the script assumes is just full of dumb-dumbs, know that Paolo is Sweet and Caring. He asks Lizzie to present the award as Isabella and she says, “In front of an audience? I’m really not good in front of crowds!” and it was honestly jarring to not see a flashback to her crashing at graduation here, which would definitely have occurred on the flashback-heavy TV show. She says no but Paolo pouts so she says yes. She agrees to appear in front of a giant audience and on live TV to speak in front of a crowd, something the movie has already established can only end in disaster. If this movie made any sense, it would end with Lizzie tripping on a lighting cord and lighting Paolo on fire à la Michael Jackson’s Pepsi commercial.
That night, Lizzie tells Gordo all about it, and we get the one instance in this movie of an issue that plagued the series: a kid actor not knowing their line was a joke. Gordo says, “You, Lizzie McGuire, are going to present an award at the IMVA’s with Paolo?!” and Lizzie should respond, “No, me, Isabella, with Paolo!” because she’s clarifying that she’d be doing it in character as someone else. But Hilary Duff delivers the line like this: “No, ME Isabella with Paolo!” and it sounds so strange and terrible. Since that behind-the-scenes video of her shooting her “You’re watching Disney Channel” ad was released, I’ve been haunted by a moment in the footage wherein she says, after several takes, “Oh! It’s mouse ears!” That says so much about Hilary Duff to me. This child just did what directors told her without thinking about any of it from the time she was like four, and boy is it noticeable sometimes.
Anyway, Gordo gets really jealous and dejected that Lizzie hung out with Paolo even though he fucking told her to, and Lizzie says she just wanted to thank him for telling her to hang out with Paolo and that he’s such a good friend because this movie is really invested in friend zone bullshit. Ethan shows up to remark on Lizzie’s rejection of Gordo and Gordo is very snippy about how he only likes Lizzie as a friend, okay!!!! This whole Gordo-doesn’t-know-he-likes-Lizzie thing is exhausting.
Matt finds tabloid pictures of Lizzie and Paolo outside the gelateria with the headline “ISABELLA GOES BLONDE!” and Matt says to Melina, “If I show this to my mom, Lizzie will be so busted!” Busted for what? Her class is clearly in the background of the picture. Busted for looking like someone else? Why wasn’t there a tabloid pic of Lizzie on a Vespa with a strange Italian guy three years older than her? They figure out that Lizzie has an Italian doppelganger and Melina proposes selling Matt’s embarrassing videos of Lizzie to the Italian tabloids. This seems like it could easily be facilitated online or over the phone, but guys, Matt is going to fly to Italy for this. Note that Matt has a suitcase full of these embarrassing videos, some of which are labeled with titles like “Lizzie Ruins Graduation” or “Bee Sting on Nose,” but two of them are just labeled “Embarrassing Moments” because someone in the prop department got lazy.
The next day, Lizzie fakes sick again to ride around on Paolo’s Vespa again, in another montage that’s similar to the last one but this time set to “Why Not.” I always get uncomfortable when artists’ real-life music is used to score moments for their fictional characters, like when New Girl uses She & Him music. Paolo takes Lizzie to a designer’s studio to get her some fashiony clothes, and everyone runs up to her and starts asking her questions in English instead of what they should assume is her native language, Italian, and no one says, “Wow, why do you have a very strong American accent?”
The school group continues to tour cool sites that Lizzie is missing. I lived in Italy for four months and fucking love Italy with my entire heart, and yet this movie inspires no nostalgia for me because all of the shots are so damn ugly.
This scene has another great Kate bit. Where are all of these coming from? Everything about this movie is much limper and stupider than the series except for Kate, although admittedly the show set a low fucking bar for her character. Here Kate and Ethan fight and Miss Ungermeyer tells them to separate. “Oh, we did,” snaps Kate. “And thank God.” The show never actually confirmed that they were a couple, but I’m cool with that line because it’s so much sassier than Kate’s usual limp sniveling. Gordo notices a tabloid with Lizzie’s face on it and asks two Italian girls to translate it for him. (One of the actresses in the scene, per the credits, is named “Katy Saunders.” That’s crazy, right?)
At the designer’s studio, some fancy fashion lady comes out and insults Lizzie’s outfit, saying she looks like a school girl. Wow, it’s almost like the too-trendy clothes they’ve always put Lizzie in completely undermines that line. Paolo tells everyone to speak English around her so she can practice her English, even though Lizzie’s is better than his, but that line was useless anyway because everyone was already speaking English around her. Lizzie tries on a bunch of absurd outfits in what’s probably one of the movie’s best-known scenes. Paolo also tells Lizzie to be more assertive, so she starts snapping at Fancy Fashion Lady, because the point of this movie is that Lizzie didn’t have confidence at graduation, but she’s learning it in Rome because a man is telling her to. I wouldn’t think you’d need to tell ol’ Screamin’ Lizzie how to snap at people, but I didn’t write this godforsaken shit movie.
The costume designer for this movie was David C. Robinson, who also designed the costumes for Zoolander and Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen. I once got down a rabbit hole during one of my recaps and wrote a whole bunch about how I wished David C. Robinson could have designed the costumes for the show based on his other work before I even realized he costumed the movie. It got cut for space, but I was excited to revisit his work for the movie and then… I actually didn’t love it. The costumes in this scene and the performance scene are all very fun, but Lizzie’s normal costuming makes her look too old and is too different from either season of the series. It feels like a Hilary Duff movie but not like a Lizzie McGuire movie, if that makes sense.
Lizzie sneaks back into the hotel, proving again that she’s in fact very good at sneaking, and jumps back in bed. When Kate gets into the room, she immediately figures out that Lizzie had snuck out with a whole Sherlock Holmes-level of attention to detail like the smell of acetone signaling that Lizzie got a manicure that day. This Kate is so much smarter than Series!Kate. However, she asks how on earth Lizzie McGuire could be doing cool things and getting attention from a cute boy, but the answer is so fucking evident from the costume design here:
Cuz Lizzie is ten million times cooler than you, idiot! I’m reminded here of the perplexed line from Roger Ebert’s review of the movie: “Her rival is Kate Sanders, who is said to be more popular than Lizzie, although how this could be, when Lizzie outshines the very stars in the sky, is hard to explain.” Kate says she’d keep it quiet that Lizzie was sneaking off if Lizzie kept it quiet that she was keeping it quiet. Boy, none of this makes any sense. Kate is clearly just a stand-in Miranda at this point. They didn’t even bother to add in any motivation for her compliance, like Kate resolving to be nicer in high school or Lizzie promising to introduce her to one of Paolo’s cute famous friends in exchange for her silence. I thought Kate was stepping up her bullying in this movie, so why is she nice all of a sudden? Disappointing.
Gordo shows up to tell Lizzie that the tabloid said that Paolo and Isabella would be singing at the IVMA’s. Lizzie says it’s probably a mistake but Gordo says Paolo is tricking her. Here the movie does that thing where a character doesn’t believe someone she knows and trusts for no reason other than plot advancement, because of course Lizzie doesn’t believe him. Adam Lamberg finally taps into his regular Gordo performance when the script busts out a classic Gordo move: he starts yelling at Lizzie and petulantly storms off.
Back at the McGuire….home….what in the hell fuck set is this?
This is so disorienting! Why not just have the McGuires be out at a restaurant for this scene or something? This is noticeably not Lizzie’s house!!
Anyway, Matt says that he found out that Italian boys like to date American girls, which riles up Sam because dads be overprotective, and Matt says he really misses Lizzie, which melts Jo’s heart because moms be sentimental, so they book a fuckin’ plane trip to Rome. Lizzie is supposed to be home in like a week! How much money do the McGuires have to blow? I’m beginning to feel like Jo withheld those cool pants from Lizzie out of spite.
Lizzie sneaks out of her hotel to meet Paolo again, because she’s actually the best at sneaking that anyone ever was. Gordo watches her meet Paolo from his window and pouts, even though he’s the one who told her to go have adventures with Paolo. She asks Paolo about the tabloid report that said that he and Isabella would sing, and he says they were going to originally, but then they cancelled that when Isabella got mad at him by giving a fake excuse that she was having throat problems, so they were just supposed to present when he asked Lizzie to pose as her, but he just now found out they had to sing after all because the tabloids reported that she could speak just fine when they took the pictures of Lizzie-Isabella in front of the gelateria and so now the record company was demanding they sing. This is all very convoluted. I cannot believe that this was the plot they came up with to get Hilary Duff to sing in this dumb movie. Why couldn’t she just, like, enter a talent show back at home or something?
(Also….guys, her doppelganger is named Isabella because it kind of sounds like Lizzie. It took me such a long time to get that and I am ashamed.)
Paolo says he’ll teach her how to sing and she’s just like “well, okay.” How does she think this is gonna work out? They do all kinds of romantic stuff and an extremely boring LMNT ballad plays here. I snorted when this song came on because it actually goes like this: “You’ve been searching the world to find true love/ Looking in all the wrong places/ When all of the time you’ve been blind to love/It’s plain as the nose on your faces.” Hahahaha, that’s such a bad line. Someone let me write pop music! It can’t be that hard. Here, I’ll try: “You wanted love but it’s so hard to find/ You’ve felt so sad and crummy/ Well, I’m here and I’m gonna blow your mind/ Cuz love is right in front of you, dummy.”
Paolo and Lizzie watch fireworks and she says, “It’s so beautiful,” and he says, “Yes. You are,” and I groaned. You think that because she looks literally identical to his probably-ex, this should seem a lot creepier to her. Gordo sulkily watches the fireworks from the hotel rooftop, all like “Ooooh, that guy I told Lizzie to hang out with is probably taking her to Makeout Point to watch these fireworks! How very dare both of them!!!! Who could have seen this coming!!!!! This is definitely someone else’s fault and not mine at all!!!!!!!!”
The McGuire family takes a (Lufthansa) flight to Italy, and while Sam is perusing some (Lufthansa) reading materials, he notices Matt pull out one of the pictures of Lizzie and Paolo that he’d printed out. Jo says she can tell it’s Lizzie since she gave her the heart necklace she’s wearing, which makes me, personally, mad because I’d invented a headcanon for this necklace. It’s clearly one of two matching best friend necklaces that Lizzie and Miranda got together because they both wore those necklaces and bracelets nonstop in the second season. I am really glad this is one of my last posts because I really need to stop getting riled up about minor costume pieces from a show that aired fifteen years ago.
The next morning, Lizzie doesn’t even wait for her group to leave before sneaking out. She has gotten so secure in her sneaking out skills that she’s gotten cocky. Gordo sees her and tries to distract Miss Ungermeyer from going back up to her room to check on her. First he says they need to go eat more spaghetti like Ethan had been suggesting, and Ethan bellows, “YOU DA MAN!” and I legitimately laughed. God bless Clayton Snyder, always the redeeming light of this franchise. When that doesn’t work, Gordo lies and says that Lizzie was faking sick to cover for him sneaking out? How on earth does that make any sense? It doesn’t, but it proves once again that Gordo is A Stand-Up Guy and it heightens the stakes, man. It ups the dramatic ante. Because Miss Ungermeyer says Gordo has to go home!! Holy shit!!
Lizzie has to sing at an awards show! The McGuires are coming to Italy! Gordo is going home!! We have a third act on our hands, people!!!
Tune in tomorrow and we’ll get into it!